Speed Reads

Dems in Disarray

After huddling with Biden, Democrats sound moderately optimistic about passing his progressive agenda

Democrats came out of five hours of meetings with President Biden on Wednesday insisting they aren't in disarray over twin spending bills that make up the core of Biden's domestic agenda. But not too many outside observers seem convinced. Biden first hosted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), then with a group of 11 House and Senate moderates, and finally a group of House and Senate progressives. 

The goal was to help broker an impasse between the centrists, who want the House to pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill next Monday and are noncommittal about an under-construction reconciliation package worth up to $3.5 trillion, and the progressive wing, which wants the centrists to commit to passing the reconciliation package and has threatened to sink the infrastructure bill without concrete assurance. Without a resolution, both bills could fail. 

"We are on schedule — that's all I will say," Pelosi said after the hour-long meeting. "We're calm, and everybody's good, and our work's almost done." Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a key progressive, said "there's a lot of give and take" and "it's tough, but I think at the end of the day, we're going to be fine." Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said at the 90-minute centrist huddle, "everybody had a chance to say their piece, and there was a lot of pieces said."

The "most important development" from Biden's mediation, a senior White House official told Politico, is that the "moderates agreed that they need to coalesce around an offer to the liberals," which was "a real breakthrough." Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a key centrist, recounted Biden's main request: "Please, just work on it. Give me a number, and tell me what you can live with and what you can't." Biden "was very straightforward in what he asked us to do," he added.

While the centrists work on their bottom line, the White House said Biden and his team have scheduled several follow-up meetings, starting Thursday. "The first step was to convene all of us, and get us to start acting like grown-ups again," said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). "The next step is to develop a procedural pathway, and the final step is to negotiate all of the substance." Those steps, he added, "have to happen in that order."